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Five Dangerous Indicators to Look for in the Trump Administration

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The whirlwind of events preceding and subsequent to the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States has left the political establishment and most of the public agape in disbelief. During the past 10 days it seemed impossible to go to sleep without missing a new critical event that broke with all tradition and shocked both America and the world. “Unprecedented” and “unthinkable” have been used so frequently by the press that, like Iñigo Montoya, I wonder if those words mean what they think they mean[1].

This is characteristic of cognitive dissonance: the state of mind imposed when events are so far outside of our personal experience – our frame of reference – that we struggle to interpret them. It induces a mild state of schizophrenia leading observers to question their own senses and doubt their own judgment. “I know this is happening, but I know this can’t be happening”: people are unable to reconcile such an equation until a new frame of reference is crafted through a process of acceptance of the “new normal”. That is how disbelief at the outrageous Mr. Trump in 2015, becomes toleration in 2016 and then acceptance and emulation in 2017. Just watch it happen, folks.

There are many people who, because of this cognitive dissonance trap, remain in denial. They would prefer to think that the events of the past 10 days are accidental, the fruit of incompetence or haste. But Franklin Roosevelt once said: “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” There is certainly an element of inexperience involved in the execution, but the sequence of events show every indication of planning and design rather than accident. This is a carefully considered strategy; to think otherwise is to delude yourself.

We are in the midst of a political revolution, as profound as any that has preceded it. I wrote about the coming storm in February 2016:

“Our political history has been characterized by long periods of political stalemate and entrenchment by powerful interests, only for these to be swept aside suddenly by short, but intense, periods of change… We are overdue for the next American revolution. It is past time to enact some new amendments to keep the dear old Constitution fully functional… I can predict with confidence that so long as the economic and social conditions of the American people continue as they are or worsen, and so long as the government of this great nation remains incompetent and disreputable, there will be more revolutionary challengers, each more radical than the preceding one.”[2]

There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that we are in the midst of revolutionary change. Nor should anyone question that Mr. Trump and his cadre of insiders mean every word they say:  they fully intend to reshape American government and American society into a new image, one that reflects their values and beliefs. The fact that Mr. Trump has already filed his candidacy for the 2020 election[3] should dispel from anyone’s mind the idea that he is not serious about or interested in being President. In a very real sense, the old Republic is dead: we can never go back to what existed before. That is not necessarily a bad thing; what we had before clearly wasn’t working, or else the revolution would not have come. But the old system is stone dead and that has important implications: the defeat of the Nazis did not lead to a Weimar restoration; Fascist Italy did not go back to a constitutional monarchy; and the fall of the Soviet Union did not bring back the Czars. Something new always develops. So those of you who oppose Donald Trump’s vision for America must stop defending the status quo: Hillary Clinton tried that and lost. You need to propose a new, competing and compelling vision for America: Bernie Sanders tried that and almost won.

If we accept the argument that Mr. Trump represents a revolutionary new political program in the US, that he intends to perpetuate it and fundamentally reshape the system and society, and that his speeches and campaign promises can be taken literally – then the question remains: what will the New America look like? Unfortunately, it is my belief that the new America will look disturbingly like the New Russia or the New Turkey. An illiberal democracy, run by a kleptocracy, oppressive, stridently nationalistic and xenophobic, intolerant and militaristic. If that seems “unprecedented” and “unthinkable” I refer you back to the first paragraph of this essay.

How can we judge if this is so? Fortunately, every revolution and every ideology shares common characteristics no matter what their geography or era. Fascists will be fascists, whether in Europe, the tropics or in Sub-Saharan Africa. The same with Communists, with Democrats, and with whatever other political system you choose as a subject. So a study of those characteristics that define your extreme right regimes, from illiberal flawed democracies through paternalistic nationalists through to full-fledged National Socialists will yield useful “leading indicators” that the Trump Administration is in fact conforming to these patterns. There are many possible indicators, but I have chosen five that I deem most likely to manifest themselves in President Trump’s first term.

Of course, by the time they are observable, it might be too late.

  1. The Perpetuation of Crisis

The past 10 days have been a whirlwind of executive orders, shock, crises, protests and exceptional events that have left the country and the world reeling. Most people hope (pray) that the new Administration will soon settle down and, as they get used to the mechanisms of government, revert to a more “normal” pattern of behavior. This assumption presupposes that the events of the first 10 days were driven by inexperience and incompetence rather than deliberation. That is an overly generous interpretation and the Party of Trump (POT) has thrived for the past two years through being underestimated by their enemies and surviving to defecate on their political graves.

In a worst case scenario, the fomenting of crises serves a number of useful purposes:

Such a move is not only unprecedented – it is frightening: it leaves Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon as the main gatekeepers to Trump on National Security matters while leaving the military and foreign intelligence (as opposed to domestic intelligence) communities outside where they can’t see or hear what is going on.

  • It serves to induce fatigue and apathy in the populace. When everything is exceptional, nothing is exceptional. At some point, people need to go back to work, spend time with their kids; the political circus becomes the “new normal”. This dynamic has already be exploited during the electoral campaign; why would they stop using the same successful tactic during the Presidency?
  • Extraordinary crises and rule by exception are a magnificent means of bypassing the rule of law and Constitutional limitations. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeus corpus during the Civil War and wasn’t averse to tossing Border State secessionists in jail to keep them in the Union. Hitler used the Reichstag fire as the excuse to suspend civil liberties and usher in the National Socialist dictatorship. What happens when the war and crises become perpetual? Then the rule of law and the Constitution go out the window. Remember that temporary, but necessary measure to make us safe, the PATRIOT Act? The one that was enacted 16 years ago, established the security state and will now never be repealed?

The Trump Administration will lurch from crisis to crisis with only brief periods of calm – and this will not be accidental but a deliberate political strategy. Each crisis will be used to advance some objective of the regime: either directly or by acting as a distraction while a separate measure is pushed through backchannels.

  1. Divide et Impera

One of the most important peace-time achievements of the Nazi Party is often overlooked because of the subsequent calamities that overtook Germany and the world: the National Socialists largely kept their promises of social mobility and economic improvement. According to Hans-Dieter Schäfer, a German historian, “upward social mobility during the Third Reich was by no means solely symbolic…People were twice as likely to move up in the six peace-time years under Hitler as they had been in the final six years of the Weimer Republic.”[4] It was a central theme of the Nazi Party, endlessly repeated by Hitler and Goebbels, to create “a socially just state that would continue to eradicate all social barriers.”[5] Hitler meant what he said and the Nazis set to work on the immediate and practical realization of this program. This gave the regime a tremendous wellspring of loyalty and support which lasted well into 1944, despite the terrible losses Germany was suffering at home and on the fronts.

This program called for extensive upheaval, indeed revolutionary social change, which the Nazis had already prepared for through their years of radicalization of domestic politics. Once they achieved power, they set about implementing their plan in two ways. The first was a massive public works and infrastructure program, coupled with large investments in the agricultural sector, all funded by large deficits and organized by the brilliant Hjalmar Schacht. This made Germany the first industrial nation to return to full employment after the Great Depression and provided a great deal of material well-being to ordinary German workers. The Nazis also enhanced the moral, or spiritual, well-being of the people by raising their self-esteem through the constant reinforcement of their uniqueness and exceptionalism. The German Volk was the purest and best of the races; all others were inferior. Historian Götz Aly writes: “The National Socialist Party was founded on a doctrine of inequality between races, but it also promised Germans greater equality among themselves.”[6] (emphasis mine).

Nazi ideology explicitly sought to replace class conflict with racial conflict. Let that sink in.

The American middle class has suffered decades of declining wages, a declining share of the national income, job insecurity, the loss of wealth to a financial crisis not of their making, inflation, and the end of upward mobility. An American white majority that is dwindling and that – rightly or not – feels increasingly pressured by the great demographic change overtaking America from decades of large-scale Hispanic immigration. An American electorate that feels – rightly or not – politically excluded and increasingly marginalized by the identity politics of a vocal minority of #BlackLivesMatter, feminists, the LGBT community and anyone else who asks for “special treatment” (even if that special treatment is only legal equality to live their lives as they see fit). This is a population that is ripe for the message of victimization and selective inclusion that was perfected in 1930’s Germany.

Mr. Trump has already promised the large scale infrastructure program to get Americans back to work, using American products and American labor. I have no doubt that he fully intends to implement that promise, in one form or another. The second plank of that program will be the rebuilding of self-esteem through the process of selective inclusion into a broad ethno-racial elite that will inevitably force outsiders into second class status. The more unequal the relationship between the ins and the outs, the greater the sense of internal equality that the in-group will experience, regardless of the actual degree of wealth inequality displayed by the group. This is an important consideration – Donald Trump is not a Marxist, not even a Robin Hood. He is the billionaire son of a millionaire and his Cabinet is the wealthiest in history, as wealthy as some small, poor nations. He is not going to champion a program of income or wealth redistribution to foment greater equality. The only other option he has is to make his supporters feel more equal by making outside groups worse off. Bottom rail on top.

The criteria for inclusion in the “in group” is likely to be broader than most people think. Mr. Trump and his staff are not stupid – far from it. Blue-eyed, blonde haired people named Fritz and Helga is too obvious, too 1930’s. The playbook has evolved since then and the Nazi idea of a racially pure Teutonic Volk simply doesn’t have the historical and cultural roots in America necessary to make it work. There are too many people from all over Europe for so narrow a definition. The American Volk will be something uniquely American. What we can begin to guess at are the out groups, in descending degree of exclusion:

  • Muslims, with the possible exception of the more secular Turks and Levantines;
  • “Mexicans” which is a generic word for ethnically indigenous Hispanics, as opposed to those of purer European descent[7];
  • African Americans, with the exception of a few wealthy African Americans who will be paraded to show how diverse the Trump Administration is;
  • In a fashion similar to the Nazis, women will be both exalted and reviled. Exalted when they obediently fulfill their societal roles as mothers, daughters, and sisters; but reviled when they attempt to subvert the natural order of things, by running for high office for example.

Interestingly, Mr. Trump has publicly spoken out against discrimination towards the LBGT community and promised to uphold workplace equality protections. There could be a number of reasons for this: both men could have personal experiences that predispose them positively towards this group; or it could be a stratagem to keep the religiously conservative Pence faction in check; or it could be a very clever stratagem to split the traditional bases of support of the Democratic Party (along with unions, which will be heavily courted by Trump in the coming years through measures like the withdrawal from the TPP). Or it could be a combination of all three factors. Regardless of the reason, we are likely to see an evolving and unstable coalition forming the Trump “in-group” and this will be deliberate stratagem.

The breakdown of traditional Left-Right distinctions is a fundamental and common characteristic of the extreme right regimes that swept Europe in the 1930’s and that are again sweeping the West. Hitler’s party was, after all, the National Socialist Party, and it absorbed the German labor unions even as it was shooting the communists. Expect Trump to actively court the labor unions even while destroy the legal basis of labor rights – they will not be necessary once the class struggle is replaced by the racial or religious struggle. Religious affiliation will also be a litmus test: not the traditional Protestant vs. other affiliations, but rather religious vs. secular, an ecumenical alliance of fervent believers against the modernist, secularist, atheist degenerates who are ruining Western Christian civilization and inviting in the Muslim enemy through their apathy. How that jibes with support for LGBT rights need not be rational – the syncretistic philosophy of the alt right is usually full of irrational contradictions, which is a main driver of their rejection of objective truth and rationalism. Trump will court the woman’s vote as well by the exaltation of those who support traditional American values – a modern version of Mussolini’s “la madre di miei bambini[8] – versus the degenerates who seek to destroy American culture with their man-hating ways. He’ll never win the women’s vote, but he doesn’t need to, he only needs to split it.

Maintaining an unstable coalition is more difficult, but yields benefits. The possibility of inclusion and the fear of exclusion raises the cost of organizing resistance. If the LGBT community finds itself protected and coddled, how likely are they to risk this status by determined opposition to Mr. Trump? Or any other group, for that matter? Whereas if a group is consistently identified as being “out” and excluded from benefits and protections, what do they have to lose from opposition? Divide et impera: “divide and conquer” was a central tenet of Roman political science, successfully practiced by the Republic and Empire for centuries. Look to Mr. Trump to deliberately target core democratic constituencies to prevent or weaken the formation of a solid bloc of determined resistance.

Let me reiterate: for the in-groups, the benefits of being in the favored category will bring substantial material and social benefits that will generate intense loyalty for the regime. They may be considerably better off than before the regime change. That is how and why selective inclusion works; if it was pure rhetoric, it would fail quickly. For the out groups, the future promises marginalization and vilification. They must serve as the contrast against which good Americans can measure themselves and thus feel better about their lot. And the worse things get for the “in” majority, the greater the degree of oppression of the out groups that will be necessary to “balance the equation”.

  1. The Purge of the Factions

One fact that people seem to forget is that Donald Trump first defeated the Republican Party, and only then did he go on to defeat the Democratic Party. He was opposed by every major Republican leader and incumbent until well into 2016. Once he won the primary, the GOP largely accepted the bargain and supported him. But while Mr. Trump is now the nominal head of the Republican Party, his agenda is not their agenda. For the moment, Mr. Trump and the GOP establishment will remain allied because they need each other, but the relationship will not last for a number of reasons:

  • The national security wing of the Republicans is already disgruntled with Mr. Trump’s pro-Russian, anti-NATO policies. If that continues, and if the military leadership continues to be marginalized[9], this could lead to a split in the ranks;
  • The big business wing of the party will be happy with the promised tax cuts and reductions in regulations, but tensions will increase as Mr. Trump pursues policies which will negatively impact their access to foreign markets and foreign profits. “America First” is not the logo of America’s multinationals – quite the opposite. There will form a core of opposition here against Mr. Trump’s anti-globalist actions as well as the constant browbeating that he will use to threaten and cajole CEO’s in targeted industries.

Mr. Trump will not be able to keep all of the GOP factions happy while also pursuing the agenda he has outlined during his campaign; yet he needs the party apparatus for his own purposes. That implies that he will need to purge the GOP of “disloyal” elements and the best time to do it will be in 2018. The mid-term election will complete the transformation of the Grand Old Party into the Party of Trump. Between now and then expect a series of crisis-driven “tests of loyalty” to see which Republican Senators and Representatives can stay and which must go: people like John McCain will meet primary challengers from purists who will receive financial backing and the full propaganda support of the Steve Bannon machine. The Republican Party will be reduced to a hardcore of racists (Sessions Faction) and religious conservatives (Pence Faction).

A purge is necessary for another reason. At this time, the Republican leadership is realistically the only force that can stop Trump, if they wake up to their danger in time. The GOP holds a gun to Trump’s head: the Congress can, at any time, use the Emoluments Clause to impeach the President since he has not divested himself of his business interests and has been in violation of the Constitution since he swore the oath of office. I’m reasonably certain that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan console themselves that this gives them control over Trump and that they can wield this cudgel to “tighten the leash” whenever they want; and Mr. Trump undoubtedly encourages them to think so since it gives them a false sense of security. After all, a weapon unused is a useless weapon. But they are only playing von Papen’s role[10]; and the Vice Chancellor’s fate will also be theirs.

Converting the GOP into the POT will secure for Trump the second of the three branches of government, leaving only the judiciary. Mr. Trump will today announce his nomination for the Supreme Court Justice to replace Antonin Scalia. It is highly likely that he will be able to also name three more justices, replacements for the liberals Ruth Bader Ginsburg (84 years old) and Stephen Breyer (79 years old) as well as the conservative (but unreliably so) Anthony Kennedy (81 years old). None of the other sitting justices are over 70, but so what? If Trump can seat four of the nine SCOTUS justices in his first term alone he will effectively dominate the third and most important branch of government – important in terms of the power of judicial review that the Supreme Court has exercised. Until now. Remember to send vitamins to these older justices. And the reshaping of the judiciary will not stop at the Supreme Court. Remember those District Court judges that blocked Mr. Trump’s Executive Order on immigration[11]? They are appointed for life and serve “during good behavior” which has traditionally meant the same thing. It requires an impeachment by both Houses of Congress to remove a federal judge, which is an extraordinarily rare event. I would not be at all surprised if the four judges who are now in Mr. Trump’s black book will used to test the limits of this judicial inviolability.

Institutions will also be purged, a process of Trumpification that has already begun and will only accelerate. This is not even a prediction, the Trump clique has made no secret of their intentions. They have announced plans to purge the senior military leadership of general officers; Congress has reinstated the Holman Rule to target the pay of individual civil servants and programs which coincided with the Trump Transition Team’s questionnaire to the Department of Energy asking which programs and individuals were “essential to implementing the Climate Action Plan”; and the new President’s gag order to federal agencies. Further reform of the civil service is highly likely with the aim of curbing any residual independence the career staff might harbor, a plan that was floated as far back as June 2016.

Mr. Trump already has loyalists controlling the FBI, Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol – it was James Comey who is largely responsible for Mr. Trump sitting in the Oval Office. Those three agencies represent pretty much the entire domestic intelligence and security apparatus of the country. The US military is genetically apolitical and so poses no threat; the above referenced purge of potentially disloyal senior officers will only solidify this predisposition. That leaves the foreign intelligence apparatus, in other words the CIA and DNI, which have been in open opposition to Trump since the Russian hacking reports broke. The Director of National Intelligence has just been demoted and the CIA is in the cross-hairs, ridiculed as incompetent and slated for funding cuts and further purging.

Within two years and on the outside four years, Donald Trump and his inner circle could dominate the entire apparatus of government to a degree that no other President ever has[12].

  1. Reshaping America: Patriots and Traitors

If you are a radical conservative, or maybe a white supremacist, and you are faced with a demographic trend that will make you a minority group within 30 or 40 years, how do you respond? After you have taken power you institute the following measures:

  • Close the border and build a wall. You don’t want to let any more of these people in, do you? There are already too many Democratic voters by half in the country;
  • Get rid of the surplus. Government efforts at controlling the flow of illegal aliens have always been with one hand tied behind their backs; they have never systematically targeted the businesses that employ undocumented workers in large numbers because of the opposition by wealthy business owners. That will now change;
  • Get rid of even more of the surplus. Student visas? Nope. Green cards? Never heard of those. Expect changes to immigration laws that will make it much harder to get into the country from certain regions, much less become a citizen. Some of you can work here, but you will never belong here;
  • Get them to leave voluntarily. If the government, media and society at large constantly denigrate an entire class of people, it is rational to suppose that those people will not feel welcome. In fact, they may pack up and leave. Even if they can’t go back to their own countries, there is always Europe, isn’t there? And if some individuals prove too ornery to take the hint, they could find themselves subject to official and unofficial harassment that will undoubtedly prove effective in many more cases.

“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.”[13] That’s bad news for the 47% of US Hispanics who are “non-white”, as well as for the African American communities. But at 23 million and 38 million respectively, these communities are too large to be completely excluded. They will form a perpetual and visibly different underclass to serve as contrast for the “in group”. On the other hand, the nation’s 2.6 million Muslims are of a more manageable size. It is entirely possible that for this group the above listed tactics will be extended to mass deportations. I don’t know how exactly that might happen, but if the government was willing to ignore the Constitution in 1941 to intern Japanese Americans for national security reasons, I have no doubt that a far less ethical government will apply the same arguments to eliminate this “grave threat” lurking in our bosom. Why else would the Trump circle float the idea of a Muslim registry? What other purpose could it serve?

Make no mistake: the Trump policy towards Muslims is not ill-conceived and it does not suffer from incompetent implementation. It is a policy designed to be both provocative and ineffective. Why? A successful and uncontroversial policy could help prevent terror attacks. But if goal is to create crises and rule by exceptionalism, then you want to have some terror attacks succeed. This perpetuates fear and the narrative of the foreign enemy who viscerally hates you. And you especially want terrorist attacks perpetrated by frustrated and radicalized American Muslims – it proves the claims of blood libel, of the inherent incompatibility of Muslims within American society, of the need for a final solution to deal with this enemy within.

But even with all of these measures, the demographic cards are still stacked against you. Over the long term you can attempt to increase the birth rate of your population (central policies both in Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy), but that doesn’t help win elections in 4 and 8 years. In order to do that, you need to exclude a lot of people who can vote. This idea is not original or attributable to Mr. Trump, it has been a fundamental Republican strategy for years. The Trump claims of widespread voter fraud costing him the popular vote are not merely about salving his ego; they are the prima facie evidence that strict new voter ID laws (a.k.a. voter suppression laws) are needed to protect our democracy. I would expect a scenario where people would be required to show their birth certificate, social security card and a valid driver’s license in order to register to vote. How many people have all three of those documents handy? Not many. By charging fees for them and by reducing funding and staffing to the agencies that provide them, the Administration can legally disenfranchise millions of people. Will many of those people be Trump supporters? Yes, but so what? Even more of them are likely to be Democrats. And by reducing voter registration deadlines, early voting, overseas voting, the number of polling stations and the location of registration stations (more in predominantly white neighborhoods, fewer in predominantly black neighborhoods) you can create an electorate that looks more like 1820 than 2020. We will continue to have elections in 2018 and 2020, they are such useful mechanisms of control; but I seriously doubt that they will be free and fair ones. There are, after all, regular elections in Russia, Turkey and all your best despotisms.

There will also be an illegalization of everything – basic civil liberties that we take for granted, like freedom of assembly, will be become more and more tenuous. Two journalists covering the Inauguration Day riots were charged with felonies – for doing their jobs. Any peaceful protest in opposition to the government will potentially be met with force – how have police reacted to the unarmed and entirely peaceful protesters in South Dakota? With riot gear and armored vehicles. That will be the new norm, necessary to ensure public safety and prevent property damage. The key to this strategy will be selective enforcement of these measures: you want to let people organize and protest occasionally because it acts as a useful safety valve and as a cathartic release for the “opposition”. Then the Administration looks tolerant and democratic, while ignoring the protestors who promptly go back to work and paying taxes. There will be socially acceptable protests and socially unacceptable ones, and groups will have to learn which are which through painful lessons.

A degree of randomness in repression is also a “best-in-class” practice for repression: it generates a degree of fear and uncertainty that erodes support. If protests can happen with impunity, they will happen frequently; if protests are always met with repression, then people will become desperate, ornery and dig in their heels – that is human nature. But if some protests are met with force and others aren’t in a more or less random fashion, then it becomes very hard to calculate risk or generate outrage. Fear and doubt act as powerful disincentives to action.

It is a common misconception that totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy imposed a uniformity of thought and prohibited all debate. That is false: we have substantial evidence from personal diaries and from recorded conversation of captured Axis soldiers that there was a considerable degree of public space devoted to debate of regime policies[14]. The system worked because the debate was allowed, thus preventing greater opposition from forming; and because the terms of the debate were limited. People were allowed to argue and even to disagree with the regime, so long as they later conformed and obeyed the dictates of the policies in question. “We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity” – those are Mr. Trump’s own words from his Inaugural Address, and that is precisely how totalitarian regimes operate; debate and even disagreement is tolerated so long as it does not affect obedience. To criticize the regime within the context of a policy or program is patriotic; to criticize the regime itself or to refuse to show “solidarity” is entirely un-American, the program and definition of treason. In such regimes where loyalty to the leader or the party is the only coin of the realm, dissidents are always traitors; there is no space for a principled stand on anything.

Freedom of the press is already under assault. The new President continuously targets news sources that are critical of him, calling them “fake news” and calling for someone responsible (i.e. pro-Trump) to buy them out. He even described himself as “in a war” with the press. Meanwhile the White House Press Secretary openly lied to journalists on trivial matters that were self-evidently and verifiably false. Shortly thereafter, the President’s Chief of Staff called the press “the opposition” and invited them to “keep their mouths shut.” Political opponents will be hounded, threatened and potentially prosecuted: remember Trump’s promise to prosecute Hillary Clinton after the election? Mr. Trump went back on that promise because he judged the time for political show trials was not yet ripe, but there is no guarantee that he will not carry out his initial instinct on other opponents in the future: in fact, it is almost guaranteed to happen, if Mr. Trump is to be taken at his word.

I anticipate that there will be a Committee on Un-American Activities established very soon. It won’t be called anything as obvious as that, but it will have the same objectives as McCarthy’s creation of the 1950’s. It will be set loose on the universities, on the think tanks (both progressive and conservative), on the civic organizations and on any independent thinkers who might get it into their heads to challenge the New Vision for America. Those who cannot be co-opted into collaborating will be threatened, hounded, persecuted, forced to emigrate or silenced in other ways. Utopian extremism always resorts to force as the ultima ratio regum.

  1. War against the world

Your typical fascist regime is a curious mixture of strong property rights, state-industrial cooperation, a lack of labor rights but with a strong populist streak that favors workers, and a fascination with protectionism and autarky[15]. There is a very good reason for this last fixation: because trade is viewed as a zero sum game and foreigners are by definition “aliens” who cannot be trusted, then minimizing interactions with them preserves the purity of the collective. And since the international system is a Darwinian struggle for survival, which the “purest” society is predestined to win, then war is not only a likely feature of it, but a necessary and intrinsic tool of natural selection for weeding out the weakest societies of those who are inferior. Inferior in race, inferior in religion, inferior in culture, inferior in sports, it doesn’t matter: the international order is as hierarchical and segmented as the domestic order, with in-groups and out-groups. And the out-groups internationally are weeded out as brutally as they are domestically.

It is therefore no surprise that Mr. Trump has picked a fight with almost everyone in the world just as soon as he entered office. The timing of these disputes may show ill-considered haste; but the fact that these disputes are happening comes as no surprise. “America First” literally means “everyone else last” (sorry Netherlands) – because Mr. Trump views international relations as a zero sum game. If Mexico benefits, they must be robbing Americans. “We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”[16]

That statement is the definition of a zero sum game: the affluence of other countries could only have been achieved through the sapping of American wealth and strength. Not just sapping – theft. Because the foreigner is the enemy. Mr. Trump completely ignores the fact that any measure of international GDP, wealth or power will show that the current system has made BOTH America and the world wealthier. The impact of decisions taken by American industrialists and American politicians, advances in technology, the rent extraction by wealthy elites, all these played no role whatsoever in the stagnation of the middle class. No, foreign success is always theft. Please feel victimized.

International crises are just as good as domestic ones for distracting the populace, promoting solidarity through a siege mentality and ruling by exception. People put up with a great deal during wartime that they would never suffer during peace. I foresee an extremely rocky road for American international relations as we lurch from conflict to conflict, striving to maintain a perpetual state of alertness and to demonstrate objectively that Americans remain the alpha predators in the ecosystem. ISIS is clearly the first and obvious target, but even assuming Mr. Trump is successful in “bombing the crap out of them”, there will of necessity be another Muslim country we need to invade. Yemen? Libya? Iran? Time will tell who the next on the list is, but since American policy will multiply the number of terrorists out there, we will not lack for enemies.

I have a hard time seeing NAFTA survive. Trudeau’s Canada is an ideological affront, though it would make a good partner if the Canadians “got with the program”. Otherwise, we only really want their raw materials for our factories, thanks very much. It is even harder to see Mr. Trump reach a deal with Mexico that stops short of complete humiliation and abject surrender on the part of our southern neighbor. The wall will be built, I guarantee it, and that will also poison relations. Mexico is too convenient a punching bag to suddenly usher in good relations: it is in the Trump/Bannon context a country of rapists and murders spreading American carnage, and so it will remain.

The United Nations is on its last legs. Trump and the America First crowd have always hated the UN as a globalist alliance intent only on destroying American strength, crushing Israel and serving as a lackey and apologist for the Third World (who are only 70% of the global population). First the Trump Administration will cut funding for all UN-related programs and then I foresee them officially withdrawing from the organization. Welcome to the dustbin of history, UN, along with the League of Nations. And as the UN goes, so will go many international multi-lateral institutions and frameworks. The New America is only likely to do bilateral deals, where we maximize the power of our negotiating position, and not multilateral ones that only serve to ravage America.

Luckily, there is no need to despair. America will not be entirely alone. We will have fellow travelers with us who share our new world view. Mr. Trump seems to have found a soulmate in Vladimir Putin, as well as another one in Marine Le Pen, who may soon turn our sister republic into a modern Vichy. Others will crop up surely. Hitler had Mussolini, and Quisling and Franco and Horthy in his orbit after all. But ideological similarity doesn’t mean that we’ll get along as allies and equals – far from it. Remember Vladimir Vladimirovich: America First. That goes for you to, comrade. At some point, sooner or later, America First and Russia First are going to clash over some mutually incompatible interest and then watch out. An argument between two nuclear-armed authoritarian states is not pleasant to contemplate.

Summary

We are still at an early stage of the Trump Administration and what I’ve written remains speculation – but it is informed speculation. Hitler laid out his blueprint for governing in Mein Kampf for all the world to see, but no one bothered to read it. Mr. Trump similarly has an extensive body of opinions, attitudes and well-documented actions that all point in this direction; while Mr. Bannon’s entirely successful career has been built on publicizing his radical opinions to the world. Just read Breitbart.

There will be resistance, perhaps strong resistance, and nothing heartens me more than reading the condemnations of Mr. Trump by principled conservatives. American institutions, coupled with a determined, organized and intelligent resistance might be enough to save our democracy. But it might not be.

We’ve been warned.


Sources and Notes

[1] The Princess Bride – classic!

[2] Betancor, Fernando D, “Sanders, Trump and the Cycle of American Revolutions,” Common Sense, 15 February 2016

[3] Unprecedented but brilliant. Most incumbents file with 6 to 12 months left in their term. To file the day after the inauguration is a total break with tradition. It is, of course, perfectly legal.

[4] Schäfer, Hans-Dieter, “Das gespaltene Bewuβtsein: Vom Dritten Reich bis zu den langen Fünfziger Jahren,” Gottingen: Wallstein, 2009

[5] Götz, Aly, “Hitlers Volkstaat: Raub, Rassenkrieg und nationaler Sozialismus,” Fischer Verlag, 2005

[6] Ibid

[7] In fact, Donald Trump polled better among all non-Mexican Hispanic voters than Mitt Romney did, principally because racism has as deep roots in Latin America as it does in the United States, and for the same reasons.

[8] Italian for “the mother of my children” which denotes exactly the role that Fascist paternalistic society imagined for the ideal woman: an idealized persona without individuality who served to provide a man with “his” children and liberate him from the tedium of the home in order to focus on the important work of building the new society, which was not a project for women outside of their designate role as the perpetuators of the razza or volk.

[9] E.g. General Joseph Dunford’s demotion from the Principals Committee; Secretary Mattis is in opposition to Trump on numerous key positions and is not in the inner circle (was not consulted on EO on immigration).

[10] Franz von Papen was a conservative Catholic German politician who was the last Chancellor of the Weimar Republic and part of President Paul von Hindenberg’s inner circle. von Papen advised von Hindenburg to bring the National Socialists into the government, despite von Hindenberg’s opposition and distaste for the Nazis, in the belief that he could control and manipulate Hitler. von Papen was quickly marginalized by Hitler and soon purged during the Night of the Long Knives. He was lucky to escape execution.

[11] U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York Judge Ann Donnelly, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia Judge Leonie Brinkema, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington Judge Thomas Zilly, and U.S. District Court for the District of Massachussetts Allison Borroughs

[12] With the posible exception of Lincoln when the secession of the southern states left a rump Congress completely dominated by the Republican Party. But of course, Lincoln was Lincoln and he didn’t “purge” Congress.

[13] Trump, Donald J., “Inaugural Address,” Washington D.C., 20 January 2017

[14] Neitzel, Sonke and Welzer, Harald, “Soldaten: On Fighting, Killing and Dying: The Secret Second World War Tapes of German POWs,” McClelland & Stewart, 2012

[15] Autarky is an economic model which strives to create self-sufficiency within the national economic system by minimizing imports and producing all goods and services domestically. This is an ideal – no nation on Earth has access to all the raw materials needed for a modern industrial economy.

[16] See note 13

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